Improve Your Performance By Being A Non Reactive Athlete

Being a reactive player hurts your performance. Learn why this is and how you can improve your level of play by becoming non-reactive.

One of my favorite videos that encompasses a nonreactive athlete is the one of Kobe Bryant not flinching when Matt Barnes fakes throwing the ball in his face. Kobe doesn’t even make the slightest move in response to Barnes’ action.

Talk about being a nonreactive athlete. The man didn’t flinch when another player acted as though he was going to throw a ball in his face.

How do you think you would have reacted in a similar situation?

Honestly, I think I would have at least flinched.

What about your emotional reaction? Do you think you would have turned to the ref and whined about him trying to throw the ball at you? Or would you have gotten so angry that it disrupted your focus for the next few plays?

This example is fantastic because it embodies being non reactive in the face of an antagonizer. But being non reactive, in the sense I am referring to in this article goes far beyond not flinching.

The nonreactive nature I am talking about is on a more emotional level. Think the stillness of Kobe, but in your mind.

What Does It Mean To Be A Reactive Player

To better understand what it means to be a nonreactive player, let’s examine the opposite, a reactive player.

When I say you are reacting to something, what do you think of?

Responding, right? In some form or another, you are responding to a situation. That is what it means to be reactive.

But more specifically, at least in the sense I am talking about, a reactive player is one who responds almost involuntarily. Their reactions have become so ingrained within them that they are natural.

There is little conscious thought going into how to behave. Likewise, a truly nonreactive player responds in a similarly subconscious way. Though, theirs does not outwardly appear to be a response.

To move from being a reactive player to a nonreactive one will take conscious effort until it has grown to become natural. That is what we will discuss towards the end of the article.

Right now, let’s take a look at a couple of examples of reactive players. Try to think for yourself to see just how their responses may negatively affect their play.

I Can’t Believe He Didn’t Called That

John has been having a good game so far. He’s made six three-pointers and gotten a couple of layups. However, as the game’s gone on, the defense has made an adjustment and taken away the three-pointer from him.

Every time he gets the ball beyond the arc, immediately two defenders swarm him. This has forced John to pass more and penetrate into the paint more.

Though, the struggles have not ceased once he’s gotten under the basket, as the opposing team’s big men have been bullying him.

Each time he puts up a shot he’s hacked and swatted at, yet the ref is not calling anything. John is growing increasingly frustrated and begins to respond negatively to the situation.

It starts with him muttering under his breath after each play. Then he begins to play more out of control on defense trying to return the favor. After a few minutes of even more irritation, his rage overflows and he starts complaining to the ref.

Not only has John not made a basket since the hacking began, but he is now being awarded a technical for his mouthiness with the ref.

Too Much Taunting

Mary’s team is playing their cross-town rivals in soccer. The other team is known for talking trash, so all week leading up to the game Mary has been feeling anxious about what she’ll say in response.

Before the game, a few words are tossed between the two teams, with Mary happily getting her fill of insults in.

As the game progresses all Mary can focus on is the continuous smack talk coming from the opposition. Each time someone on the other team says something, Mary is quick to respond.

Towards the end of the game the score is tied, one to one. As time is winding down the other team seems to keep hold of possession. Every time Mary’s team takes control they are quick to steal it back and, of course, toss a few remarks their way in the process.

Well, by this point Mary has had enough. She has witnessed her team being belittled and she and another player specifically have really been jawing back and forth.

This other girl gets the ball crossing mid-field, with only two defenders to beat. She passes one and only has Mary to get past. As she’s approaching, a couple of choice words are exchanged.

Mary was just seething with anger and failed to realize they were in the penalty box when she aggressively took the legs out from under the girl. Whistles are immediately blown and the refs place the ball down for a penalty shot.

One Strike Out Too Many

Sam’s the three whole hitter on his team. He is known around the conference for being a dangerous hitter, but also for having a pretty hot temper.

This game has been one to highlight his short fuse for sure. His first two at-bats were strikeouts. After the first one, he came into the dugout cussing and smacking the wall. He aggressively slammed his helmet down, producing an echo throughout the whole ballpark.

The second at-bat he took his irritation a step further, punching the ground with his bat and this time throwing his helmet at the wall.

Now comes his third at-bat.

The umpire calls strike three on a ball that was a touch outside. Sam loses it.

He turns to the umpire yelling about the call, takes two steps towards the dugout, and smashes his bat on the ground, splitting it in two.

How Being Reactive Hurts Your Performance

What did you notice from the three scenarios I described above? How do you think their responses impacted their play directly, and how do you think it will affect them moving forward?

Let’s take a look at each scenario and see if we can identify how they all are negatively impacted by their unconscious reactions to the situations. In the end, there will be one overarching factor which is the main reason why being reactive hurts your performance.

I’ll tell you what it is, but I want you to start thinking about what it may be for yourself.

With the first example I provided, John grew frustrated for a couple of different reasons. First, the double-teaming whenever he got the ball beyond the three-point line seriously irritated him. Then the hard defense he got when driving into the paint pushed him over the edge.

The other team’s strong defense and the ref not calling fouls took John out of his game. He became distracted, played out of control, and ultimately caused his team even more harm by getting a technical.

Mary found herself in a distracted state even before the game began. She knew the other team’s propensity to trash talk, so that became her focal point of attention.

During the game, Mary’s focus was removed from what she needed to do to perform well due to her concern with jawing back and forth with the other team.

Once again, this came to a head at the end of the game when she made a stupid foul in the penalty box, leading to a game-winning penalty shot. Mary was reactive to the other team’s taunting and paid a heavy price in return.

Lastly, Sam started to lose his temper after the first strikeout. Responding in this way to a seemingly common situation in baseball put him at a much higher risk of repeating that outcome his next at-bat.

That’s exactly what happened. Rather than realize the fault in his ways, Sam’s reaction grew worse, causing him to be in an even more negative mindset for his third at-bat.

After a third strikeout, Sam slammed his bat on the ground, splitting the wood in two. At this point, not only has he lost his bat, but he is also in complete mental disarray, and any more plate appearances he has that day will be lucky to go any other way.

The Main Problem With Reactivity

I didn’t even get into the negative effect this type of reactivity has on your teammates. In each of these scenarios, the team would be affected too. Their morale would lower and they would likely adopt a similar negative and frustrated mood.

All I am focusing on is how responding in this type of way hurts YOU!

So, were you able to come up with the overshadowing factor?

The number one reason being reactive negatively impacts your performance is because it serves as a distraction.

Being reactive to anything outside of yourself and your own responsibilities during a game hinders your focus and distracts you from what you need to be giving attention to.

This all has to do with control. You cannot control whether or not a ref calls a foul. You cannot control the taunting of another team. And after the fact, you cannot alter the strikeout you just had.

All of this, by the time you are reacting, is out of your power to change. You can try, and try you will, but by doing so you are only hurting yourself.

Many, many times I have been reactive. I played baseball, so for me, it looked very similar to Sam’s situation. I used to get so irritated and throw fits whenever the umpire made a bad call, I got out, or I made an error in the field.

But you know what, all of this distracted me from doing what I needed to in order to succeed moving forward.

Success is a result of being fully focused on the task at hand. Perform that to the best of your abilities and the result will take care of itself.

So, if you don’t want to be reactive, what does the opposite look like? How can you begin to be a nonreactive player? Well, it starts by asking yourself one simple question: What is my job right now?

“Success is a result of being fully focused on the task at hand. Perform that to the best of your abilities and the result will take care of itself.”

Focus Only On Your Job

Being reactive means responding to everything that happens around you. As much as we all hate to admit it, our minds cannot focus on two things at once.

So, if you are giving energy to how the other team is playing defense or something that happened in the past, you are not using your full power of focus on the task at hand.

If you want to be nonreactive, begin giving all your attention to your responsibilities. What are your responsibilities you ask? They consist of the process within your sport that is one-hundred percent within your control.

It’s not an easy thing to do, but try to begin disassociating yourself from everything around you.

For example, in John’s scenario from earlier, him being nonreactive would have consisted of focusing on passing the ball to a more open player, playing smart but hard defense, and putting up strong shots the best he could.

All of that has nothing to do with whether or not the ref calls a foul.

For Sam, instead of growing irritated over a past strikeout, he could have remained calm and thought about what his job was at that moment.

His responsibility was to stay composed, in order to not disrupt his mindset or that of his teammates. Think about what he could take away from the at-bat to improve, and get his mindset ready to play defense.

For Mary, she should have done her best to pay no attention to the taunting of the other team. Winning or losing is not done through words except on a debate team.

Mary would have performed much better if she could have stayed focused on the process that would result in her performing the best.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is, if you want to play up to your potential and get the best out of yourself, you have to practice being non reactive.

Responding in a reactive way to everything around you completely destroys your focus and inhibits your ability to play your best.

It’s all about reminding yourself, over and over, to focus on what you have control over. Focus only on your job and the rest will fall into place.

Do you struggle with being overly reactive? Let me know of a certain situation that really causes you to react in the comments below.

If you have any questions please feel free to reach out, and also share this post if you found it helpful!

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

Recent Articles
Follow Us

Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!

Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!